An Italian Day

A friend once mentioned to me that her neighbour went to the market or local shop everyday to buy provisions for that day’s lunch or dinner. She told me that if she did a weekly shop then she’d save herself a daily trip to the shops. I thought about this and spoke with an Italian friend about it and her reply was, “Of course we shop everyday, that way we know we have, cibo più fresco.” PING! on went the ‘of course’ light. In a society where seasonal is important, women have shopped daily for years to make certain they purchase the best and freshest produce.

Often people comment that Italian’s appear to be chaotic and disorganised, but that’s far from the truth. Italian’s are very organised in their day to day lives and as I think back to how my day has been today I realise I’ve adapted to some of these daily rituals easily and without actually thinking about it. So here’s a typical Britalian day for me and how it mirrors that of my Italian colleagues and friends.

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My day starts with strong black coffee and after breakfast I set off for work. Today I drive up into the mountains as I’m visiting the town of Torricella Peligna to take photos of an apartment that is being put up for sale. I have a pleasant morning with the owner and get the shots required to market her apartment. The sky is as clear and blue as a Ceylon sapphire as we leave the town and below us the road twists and turns through the countryside, with its patchwork of fields and olive groves. The car’s windows are open and the scent of jasmine is drawn inside making this journey a feast for the senses. We pass through the town of Roccascalegna and decide to drop in to check all is well with some new clients who purchased a house a few months back. I find that Sue, Keith and their beautiful daughter Sophie are settling in to their house well and are becoming happily embroiled into their Italian community.

It’s now one o’clock and time for that important of daily Italian customs, lunch.

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We drop into our local restaurant which is already filled with diners and after a ten minute wait we’re seated and ordering. Italian lunch is the most important meal of the day, it’s not to be rushed, it’s meant to be eaten in a relaxed manner to aid digestion. In complete contrast to the meagre Italian breakfast lunch is substantial. I order my primo;  chitarrina allo scoglio, a pasta dish made with the local Abruzzese square shaped spaghetti. The mussels and clams are sweet and the broth that lurks under the pasta has the fragrance of the sea. Around us the other diners are eating, drinking and chatting at a leisurely pace. Lunch isn’t something that should be rushed in Italy. More white wine: ice cold and fizzing in the carafe is delivered to our table and our dishes are cleared away in readiness for the secondo.

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Being an Italian restaurant there’s a television mounted on the wall and muted news reports are playing as the waiters clear tables and redress them in around 40 seconds for more waiting diners. My secondo arrives, a plump piece of salmon dressed simply with olive oil and a slice of lemon. My contorno (side dish) is slices of fresh tomato and wafer thin rings of red onion.

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Workers look at their watches in a relaxed manner, no one is rushing to get back to work yet; after all the standard time given over for lunch is two hours. I check the time and order coffee and stretch my arms above my head feeling happily full.

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After my two hour repast and having paid my €10  we leave and I go back to work. My afternoon is taken up with admin until it’s time to pack away the office for a few minutes and head off to the cantina. A short drive later, I’m loading boxes of wine into the boot of the car and I’m almost ready to leave when the assistant calls me over and gives me two free bottles of wine and tells me to have a good evening.

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Generosity seems to be an intrinsic part of the Italian psyche as is their cordiality, it’s customary to be told to have a good day, a pleasant evening, buon pranzo (have a good lunch) and all other manner of well wishes throughout your day. These salutations are never forced and they’re always received and reciprocated in a genuine way. I’m happy to say that there’s none of that dictated corporate bonhomie in Italy.

Back home, it’s time to sample the wine and a glass of excellent red is poured as I check the last of the emails for the day before setting off for the evening stroll in readiness for dinner. Passeggiata, the Italian custom of a stroll before dinner is a perfect way to catch up with gossip, and as soon as you get into the habit you realise it’s a perfect way to integrate with your community, it’s a sort of walking adhesive.

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It’s now around 8pm and the cars have started to arrive at the local restaurant, the tables outside are populated by people drinking aperitivi as the waiters finish setting up for the evening service. And all over Italy people are preparing for dinner, the same way it’s been done throughout generations.

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Dog in the Road

How many times have we heard people say, “If I won the lottery I’d leave here and go and live in paradise.” But nowhere on earth is perfect, even paradise will have its idiosyncrasies, its problems and its bugbears. Since I chose to live in Italy, and more importantly Abruzzo, people must think It’s my piece of paradise, and it is. That is, to say how I define paradise. In my wildest dreams it’d be somewhere with a great climate, endless activities to enjoy and I guess, as this is my dream, I’d have Tiziano Ferro as my live-in lover/personal crooner. But this isn’t a dream it’s reality and despite having a great climate and endless activities, Italy can be infuriating, but so can England, America or anywhere. So I like to think paradise is taking pleasure from the simple things and not dwelling upon the negatives.

After running a business and living in England, I’ve now started to enjoy those simple things. Things like popping to bread shop in the morning and passing the time of day with the locals as you buy some foccacia, or chatting to my neighbour about nothing of great importance and drinking an espresso standing at a bar with men in overalls… Ooer missus ! I like driving the short distance to the, fontano communale in Perano and getting a litre of ice-cold fizzy water for just five cents and talking of driving I like the fact that when I pull into a petrol station a human being serves me. I guess it’s a little like stepping back in time but with iPods, memory sticks and DVD box sets.

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One thing that has not been pleasurable is paying €1500 to obtain permissions from the comune (council) to work on our house. Back in the UK there’s choice. Choice of windows, doors, paint colours etc. Here you have to tow-the-line. We can only paint our house white or beige, (now how do you actually define beige). In other towns there are yellow, pink and pale green houses, but here in our little hamlet, it’s white or beige; any other choice of colour will require a fee for the comune to consider it and a man to come out to fill in forms in triplicate. Another idiosyncrasy that I find annoys me, is having to drive in daylight with your headlights switched on and don’t get me started on the inability of any young woman sat behind a cash register to smile.

Some pleasures are applicable only to where you are situated, I’m lucky, within twenty-minutes of my front-door I can be at the coast, within thirty, I can be in the mountains and if it grabbed my bag within sixty, at the ski slopes. Some pleasures don’t involve much effort and happen naturally. Take the other night for instance, I took a stroll around Civitella Messer Raimondo with Seppe and we chatted about the history of the town and looked at the views across the countryside. (There’ll be a separate blog posting about this within the coming days, so stay tuned for, Hanging Baskets and Cat Flaps, coming to a laptop near you Cat face.)

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One simple pleasure this week was the kind gift of ten beautiful white free range eggs, however one thing that certainly holds no pleasure for me is being sent to buy something our builder requires when my knowledge of construction has previously been obtained via stickle bricks and Lego, add to this the foreign name and you may as well ask me to broker a peace treaty between north and south Korea. However, would I swap this new life… Not a chance.

 

 

The original title to this blog posting was, Simple Pleasures. But today I saw something that I have to say touched me deeply. The Italian’s have a relaxed attitude to keeping dogs, they let them wander around unchecked, and many’s the time I’ve heard brakes screech as a dog wanders into the road. Coming out of Selva Altino is a small bar where locals have their coffee and every morning an old gentleman totters over with his small sandy coloured dog at his heels. Today would have been no different, had the dog not spotted another across the road and decided to walk over. The inevitable happened, the driver in front of me had no time to stop, thankfully death was instant. The saddest sight was the old man’s desperate efforts to get into the road, as the traffic continued moving on the left hand side. Seeing the man’s distress a lorry driver stopped allowing him to collect his companion from the middle of the road.

Makes those simple pleasures all the more special.